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by Wendy Stackhouse · July 21, 2014

When Bed Bugs Become Book Bugs

If asked where you’d be most likely to find bed bugs, most people would instinctively answer “in beds, of course.” And clearly, that does relate to the place bed bugs thrive, which is in residential quarters, such as homes, apartments, dorm rooms and hotels.

But over the last few years, bed bugs have been popping up in some unsuspecting places, one of which is local libraries. Believe it or not, bed bugs have been seen lurking around bookshelves in the same way they creep around bed frames.

Hitting the Books

Back in 2011, there was an unusual story about a library shutdown in the Detroit, Michigan area. The Taylor Community Library was closed after a patron discovered bed bugs inside, lots of them. After a quick fumigation process, the library was reopened.

What seemed like an isolated incident in the Detroit Library proved to be anything but. Two years later in Kalamazoo, MI, there were a pair of incidents in which two separate libraries reported having bed bugs. In mid-February, 2013, bed bugs were found at the Washington Square Branch Library. Days later, more were found in the children’s room at Rose Street.

Meanwhile, stories of bed bugs infestations in public libraries have become regular news headlines around the country, from the West in places like Seattle to the Eastern seaboard in places like New York City. Even Canadian cities like Toronto have had issues with bed bugs in libraries.

Why Libraries?

Truly the most puzzling question is, “where do these bedbugs come from?” The short answer is that they were inadvertently brought to the libraries by people who checked out books and returned them later.

It is generally believed that the bed bugs traveled to the libraries inside books that had been checked out for several weeks at a time. This is based on the fact that several libraries found the bugs in the drop boxes and the return processing areas. The bugs hid within the binding of hardcovers and stayed inside until they reached their destination.

Why Books?

It turns out that the age-old activity of reading a book in bed until one falls asleep is the cause of the problem. The bed bugs that are hiding in bed frames, mattresses, and walls find their way to books and see them as a hiding place. From there, they inadvertently end up hitchhiking to the local library and joining the circulation.

What Can Libraries Do?

Because libraries are unable to limit who can access their publications, the problem cannot be stopped at the source. Many libraries have taken the initiative to bring in dogs that can sniff out bed bugs in books that have been returned, which allows the books to be removed from circulation and treated or destroyed. However, it’s a much greater problem if the bed bugs are already in the library. From there, professionals will have to come in and deal with the infestation.

Unfortunately for book borrowers, not much can be done to avoid transporting a bed bug book. While one can flip through the pages to check for eggs (white dots) and feces (black spots), those signs might not be present. Also, because the bugs hide in the binding, unless you’re willing to tear the book to pieces – which would likely earn you some steep library fines – it would be impossible to find a hiding bug. In the end, one can only hope that the libraries are alert about everything in their circulation, lest the cycle of spreading bed bugs continues.

Click here to learn more about ways to eliminate bed bugs, dust mites, and other pests.

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